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Maui News: Akaka's goal: Self-sufficiency

Meeting focuses on Native Hawaiians

Thu, August 18, 2011

By CHRIS HAMILTON - Staff Writer, The Maui News

KAHULUI - U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka was on Maui on Wednesday as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to listen to ideas on how to create parity for indigenous people living across America, with a focus on Hawaii.

The so-called Akaka Bill was not discussed, although it is still pending before Congress. The measure would establish a semiautonomous Native Hawaiian government, similar to Native American groups found on the Mainland.

On Wednesday, the six speakers who addressed Akaka for several hours had Native Hawaiian, Native American, or state and federal government ties. The event at the Maui Beach Hotel was titled "Strengthening Self-Sufficiency: Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development in Native Communities."

"Legislation is the last resort," said Akaka, 86, who knows that pitfall well. "I'd prefer to do it administratively."

The testifiers discussed "the administrative and legislative barriers that exist in providing economic development opportunities for native communities," he said. The information will help his committee develop policies that encourage self-sufficiency and spur economic growth and job creation.

Akaka became chairman of the committee in March and already held 22 similar hearings and less-formal discussions to learn "from people in the trenches," he said. The speakers included Robin Danner, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement; Michelle Kauhane, deputy director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; and Michael Smith, a deputy director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Danner, whose organization represents 150 Native Hawaiian nonprofits, advocated for more funding and less red tape. Ultimately, she said, the people she represents want self-determination, a stance close to Akaka's heart.

Kauhane said the government, intentionally or not, often has made the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands ineffective at times and underfunded. She came with a list of barriers and possible solutions:

Many of the 200,000 acres of trust lands are in places too remote for roads.

With the land tough and far away, it's expensive to build more than just low- to moderate-income housing.

For Native Hawaiian business development, the department needs capital.

"Any self-sufficient community is a healthy community," Akaka added.

Akaka has no deadline for the hearings' outcomes, other than when he leaves office Dec. 31, 2012, said spokesman Jesse Van Dyke.

Akaka also heard from Michael Hudson, operations manager of Wow Farm Inc. of Kamuela on the Big Island. In addition, Akaka listened to tribal leaders from Nashville, Tenn.; Sequim, Wash.; and Fort Hall, Ind.

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at

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